Case Histories : Photo Hoaxes> [prev ¦ 1 ¦ 2 ¦ 3 ¦ 4 ¦ 5 ¦ 6 ¦ 7 ¦ 8 ¦ 9 ¦ next]


Immediately the boys ran down to Little Arrow farm where they found Dr Darbishire and the family watching TV, oblivious to the events unfolding outside. Stephen recalls how the two excited youngsters rushed into the farmhouse and blurted out how they “had seen something strange...I think I used the words ‘a flying saucer’ and of course everyone fell about laughting and said ‘oh yes, Stephen, you’ve been up to your tricks again.’” Stephen's father, according to Desmond Leslie, “frankly did not believe it” but made his son sit down and write a statement and make a sketch of what he had seen within half an hour of the sighting taking place.

Stephen quickly produced some remarkable and accomplished pencil sketches of a classic Adamski ‘flying saucer’ before his two photographs were reproduced in celluloid. They consisted of two detailed drawings of a “Scout Ship,” complete with turret, three portholes and landing gear, almost but not exactly identical to those which had appeared in the magazine Illustrated during October 1953. Other sketches depict the craft at different angles, possibly showing its method of departure. In longhand beneath the drawings appear the words: “Drawing by Stephen Darbishire, aged 13 years, of what he saw, done before the two photographs of the flying saucer had been developed.” (9)

Dr Darbishire delivered the film for development to a lab in Coniston village while Stephen was away, staying with his godmother. When the film was returned the retired GP could not believe his eyes. For the final two frames on the film did show a fuzzy, saucer-shaped object apparently suspended above a grassy hillock. Although out of focus, in the best picture it is possible to pick out what appear to be ‘dark portholes’ and three ‘landing domes’ as described by Stephen at the time.

Stephen recalled: “When I came back my father greeted me off the bus at 8 o'clock in the morning and said ‘right, come on inside.’ He was very agitated and he said I’ve got so and so from the Daily Express and someone from the Daily Mail arriving in half an hour. Before I knew it we had half the world's press on the doorstep.” What happened next, as they say, is history. Stephen’s story and a reproduction of the clearest photograph, the first in the sequence, was published on page 1 of the Preston-based Lancashire Evening Post. Within days photos of Stephen, Adrian and the ‘flying saucer’ had appeared in the national Press. On February 26, 1954, the Lancashire Evening Post became the first British newspaper to reproduce Darbishire’s sketches and photograph alongside those of the Venusian “Scout Ship” taken by Adamski, having obtained special permission from “the leading British expert on the subject,” Desmond Leslie. Al Griffin of the Post noted how “…we are assured… that Stephen had never seen the Adamski pictures” when he produced the sketch. What the paper described as “space travel enthusiasts, flying saucer fans, scientists, scoffers and sceptics” were all left to draw their own conclusions.

During the media frenzy that followed publication of the photographs, Stephen’s written statement was overlooked. The original, or what is purported to be the original, was reproduced in Leonard Cramp's book Space, Gravity and the Flying Saucer and poses a number of questions. Most important is the sentence that reads: “...Adrian and I were down in a small hill valley so the rising in foreground of photo is due to the position we were in. Some grass is shown under the saucer.[my emphasis]” If these words really were committed to paper within half an hour of the experience as claimed and therefore some days before the photographs were developed, how could Stephen know what, if anything, was depicted on the negatives that were, at that point, still inside his father’s camera? Sadly, no one other than the editor of Flying Saucer News felt it necessary to ask this very relevant question at the time. (10)

Equally of interest are Stephen's words describing the point immediately after the photo was taken: “...just as I had finished the flying saucer (which I now thought it must be) shot off up into the clouds...” A curious turn of phrase for a boy who claimed he had “no knowledge” of flying saucers! Desmond Leslie, who travelled to Coniston on February 23 and was a guest of the Darbishire family for two days, soon dismissed the possibility that Stephen had faked the photographs. During his stay “Stephen never once contradicted himself [or] made a remark or inadvertent slip suggestive of a hoax,” wrote Leslie who was at that time promoting Flying Saucers Have Landed. He saw young Stephen’s photographs as corroborative evidence of Adamski’s outlandish claims. Leslie notes that Stephen did not make any slip-ups when questioned by four hardened journalists and a crew from BBC TV. The boy's father maintained that he too had cross-examined both Stephen and Adrian thoroughly before deciding to “go public” with the photographs. He said they stuck by their story even when warned about the trouble they could be in if the story was a hoax. He was convinced they were not lying.

But the most suspicious statement of all is hidden within Leslie’s attempt to pursuade readers that Stephen had never read his book Flying Saucers Have Landed or even a abridged version of Adamski’s claims: “..he [Stephen Darbishire] admitted he had seen the photograph of the Adamski saucer as published in Illustrated on 30th September [sic] 1953.” (11)

If Leslie’s account is accurate then Stephen clearly had seen Adamski's Scout Ship photo, published four months before his own photographs showing a similar “craft” were taken. Indeed, how else could the youngster have produced such an accurate pencil drawing of an “Scout Ship” complete with three portholes and landing gear? Clearly this left just two stark alternatives: either Stephen had seen an identical Venusian Scout Ship as described by George Adamski, or he had reproduced the photograph he had seen in Illustrated and somehow transferred this to celluloid. Perhaps realising the problems this admission created for the story Leslie claimed that Stephen maintained “although this saucer picture [published in Illustrated] had shown a saucer with three portholes in a row, the one had seen had four in a row.” In the drawing he produced immediately after the sighting Stephen drew only three portholes, “but as the saucer went away it turned slightly so that a fourth porthole came into view.” For Leslie that was evidence enough, for he knew that in one of the unpublished Adamski photos four portholes in a row are clearly shown.

“He [Stephen Darbishire] did not know this!” exclaimed Leslie with obvious glee. “This, on top of the other evidence, fully convinced me that Stephen was not only telling the truth but also that he had seen the same saucer (or an identical model) as Adamski.” (12)

In the heady days of 1954, these problems seemed irrelevant. Through accident or design Stephen Darbishire became a national celebrity overnight. His pictures were flashed around the world, and before February was out the inhabitants of Little Arrow farm had been introduced to what today Stephen calls “the world of sympathetic magic...modern magic” Desmond Leslie was just the first “flying saucer believer” to visit Coniston to experience the vibes of the “Space visitors”. Leslie lost no time in proclaiming Stephen’s photo as “the second of the Adamski type to be photographed in the world” and told the local newspaper: “I am satisfied that Stephen saw what he says he saw…this visit or contact has been expected for some time.” (13)
Before the March was out Stephen had been invited to a saucer-spotters convention in London where delegates scrutinised blurry enlargements of his photograph. He recalls how “it all got rather hysterical and one chap leapt up and said he could see a face in a porthole.” »

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